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The long exhortation Proverbs 1–9, characterized by the frequent recurrence of the words “my son,” is of the nature of a preface to the collection of the “Proverbs of Solomon” Proverbs 10:1. On Proverbs 1:1-7, see the introduction to Proverbs.
The writer’s purpose is to educate. He is writing what might be called an ethical handbook for the young, though not for the young only. Of all books in the Old Testament, this is the one which we may think of as most distinctively educational. A comparison of it with a similar manual, the “sayings of the fathers,” in the Mishna, would help the student to measure the difference between Scriptural and rabbinical teaching.
Wisdom - The power by which human personality reaches its highest spiritual perfection, by which all lower elements are brought into harmony with the highest, is presently personified as life-giving and creative. Compare the notes of Job 28:23, etc.
Instruction - i. e., discipline or training, the practical complement of the more speculative wisdom.
Understanding - The power of distinguishing right from wrong, truth from its counterfeit. The three words σοφία sophia, παιδεία paideia, φρόνησις phronēsis (Septuagint), express very happily the relation of the words in the Hebrew.
Wisdom - Not the same word as in Proverbs 1:2; better, perhaps, thoughtfulness.
Justice - Rather, righteousness. The word in the Hebrew includes the ideas of truth and beneficence as well as “justice.”
Judgment - The teaching of the Proverbs is to lead us to pass a right sentence upon human actions, whether our own or another’s.
Equity - In the Hebrew (see the margin) the plural is used, and expresses the many varying forms and phases of the one pervading principle.
This verse points out the two classes for which the book will be useful:
(1) the “simple,” literally the “open,” the open-hearted, the minds ready to receive impressions for good or evil Proverbs 1:22; and
(2) the “young,” who need both knowledge and discipline.
To these the teacher offers the “subtilty,” which may turn to evil Exodus 21:14 and become as the wisdom of the serpent Genesis 3:1, but which also takes its place, as that wisdom does, among the highest moral gifts Matthew 10:16; the “knowledge” of good and evil; and the “discretion,” or discernment, which sets a man on his guard, and keeps him from being duped by false advisers. The Septuagint renderings, πανουργία panourgia for “subtilty,” αἴσθησις aisthēsis for “knowledge,” ἔννοια ennoia for “discretion,” are interesting as showing the endeavor to find exact parallels for the Hebrew in the terminology of Greek ethics.
But it is not for the young only that he writes. The “man of understanding” may gain “wise counsels,” literally, the power to “steer” his course rightly on the dangerous seas of life. This “steersmanship,” it may be noted, is a word almost unique to Proverbs (compare “counsel” in Proverbs 11:14; Proverbs 12:5; Proverbs 24:6).
The book has yet a further scope; these proverbs are to form a habit of mind. To gain through them the power of entering into the deeper meaning of other proverbs, is the end kept in view. Compare Matthew 13:0.
The rendering “interpretation” spoils the parallelism of the two clauses, and fails to express the Hebrew. In Habakkuk 2:6, it is rendered “taunting proverb.” Here “riddle” or “enigma” would better express the meaning.
The beginning of wisdom is found in the temper of reverence and awe. The fear of the finite in the presence of the Infinite, of the sinful in the presence of the Holy (compare Job 42:5-6), this for the Israelite was the starting-point of all true wisdom. In the Book of Job 28:28 it appears as an oracle accompanied by the noblest poetry. In Psalms 111:10 it comes as the choral close of a temple hymn. Here it is the watchword of a true ethical education. This fear has no torment, and is compatible with child-like love. But this and not love is the “beginning of wisdom.” Through successive stages and by the discipline of life, love blends with it and makes it perfect.
To the Israelite’s mind no signs or badges of joy or glory were higher in worth than the garland around the head, the gold chain around the neck, worn by kings and the favorites of kings Genesis 41:42; Daniel 5:29.
The first great danger which besets the simple and the young is that of evil companionship. The only safety is to be found in the power of saying “No,” to all such invitations.
The temptation against which the teacher seeks to guard his disciple is that of joining a band of highway robbers. The “vain men” who gathered around Jephthah Judges 11:3, the lawless or discontented who came to David in Adullam 1 Samuel 22:2, the bands of robbers who infested every part of the country in the period of the New Testament, and against whom every Roman governor had to wage incessant war, show how deeply rooted the evil was in Palestine. Compare the Psalms 10:7, note; Psalms 10:10 note.
Without cause - Better, in vain; most modern commentators join the words with “innocent,” and interpret them after Job 1:9. The evil-doers deride their victims as being righteous “in vain.” They get nothing by it. It does them no good.
i. e., “We will be as all-devouring as Sheol. The destruction of those we attack shall be as sudden as that of those who go down quickly into the pit.” Some render the latter clause, and upright men as those that go down to the pit. “Pit” here is a synonym for Sheol, the great cavernous depth, the shadow-world of the dead.
The second form of temptation (see Proverbs 1:10 note) appeals to the main attraction of the robber-life, its wild communism, the sense of equal hazards and equal hopes.
Strictly speaking, this is the first proverb (i. e., similitude) in the book; a proverb which has received a variety of interpretations. The true meaning seems to be as follows: “For in vain, to no purpose, is the net spread out openly. Clear as the warning is, it is in vain. The birds still fly in. The great net of God’s judgments is spread out, open to the eyes of all, and yet the doers of evil, willfully blind, still rush into it.” Others take the words as pointing to the failure of the plans of the evil-doers against the innocent (the “bird”): others, again, interpret the proverb of the young man who thinks that he at least shall not fall into the snares laid for him, and so goes blindly into them.
Not robbery only, but all forms of covetousness are destructive of true life.
Wisdom is personified. In the Hebrew the noun is a feminine plural, as though this Wisdom were the queen of all wisdoms, uniting in herself all their excellences. She lifts up her voice, not in solitude, but in the haunts of men “without,” i. e., outside the walls, in the streets, at the highest point of all places of concourse, in the open space of the gates where the elders meet and the king sits in judgment, in the heart of the city itself Proverbs 1:21; through sages, lawgivers, teachers, and yet more through life and its experiences, she preaches to mankind. Socrates said that the fields and the trees taught him nothing, but that he found the wisdom he was seeking in his converse with the men whom he met as he walked in the streets and agora of Athens.
Compare the Psalms 1:1 note.
(1) The “simple,” literally, “open,” i. e. fatally open to evil;
(2) the “scorners,” mocking at all good;
(3) lastly, the “fools” in the sense of being hardened, obstinate, perverse, hating the knowledge they have rejected.
The teaching of Divine Wisdom is essentially the same as that of the Divine Word John 7:38-39. “Turning,” repentance and conversion, this is what she calls the simple to. The promise of the Spirit is also like His John 14:26. And with the spirit there are to be also the “words” of Wisdom. Not the “spirit” alone, nor “words” alone, but both together, each doing its appointed work - this is the divine instrumentality for the education of such as will receive it.
The threats and warnings of Wisdom are also foreshadowings of the teaching of Jesus. There will come a time when “too late” shall be written on all efforts, on all remorse. Compare Matthew 25:10, Matthew 25:30.
Compare the marginal reference. The scorn and derision with which men look on pride and malice, baffled and put to shame, has something that answers to it in the Divine Judgment. It is, however, significant that in the fuller revelation of the mind and will of the Father in the person of the Son no such language meets us. Sadness, sternness, severity, there may be, but, from first to last, no word of mere derision.
Desolation - Better, tempest. The rapid gathering of the clouds, the rushing of the mighty winds, are the fittest types of the suddenness with which in the end the judgment of God shall fall on those who look not for it. Compare Matthew 24:29 etc.; Luke 17:24.
This is no arbitrary sentence. The fault was all along their own. The fruit of their own ways is death.
Turning - Wisdom had called the simple to “turn,” and they had turned, but it was “away” from her. For “prosperity” read carelessness. Not outward prosperity, but the temper which it too often produces, the easy-going indifference to higher truths, is that which destroys.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Proverbs 1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent